Of the 793 who voted on the health-care resolution, 53% of them voted in favour of a private-tier system where people could pay a user fee for services
EDMONTON — Delegates at Alberta’s United Conservative Party’s annual general meeting over the weekend narrowly endorsed a controversial proposal in favour of privately managed and funded health care.
The meeting, held via Zoom, saw some 1,400 delegates attend, who considered 30 policy resolutions, some on health care, others on energy politics and others still on labour law.
Of the 793 who voted on the health-care resolution, 53 per cent of them voted in favour of a private-tier system where people could pay a user fee for services. The proposal, brought forward by the Calgary-Varsity constituency, argues a two-tier system would help tackle ballooning health-care costs and wait times, while solving problems of physician pay that have been plaguing the provincial government.
“This could help the economy recover more efficiently by creating choices, for both physicians and patients, in time and public costs to the Public Health System,” the resolution says. The economic benefit to government and the society is a health budget that will not grow excessively for Public Provincial Healthcare that in itself delays accessibility.”
The policy proposals that came up at the convention will be used to inform the UCP’s next election platform.
The private health-care resolution wasn’t especially popular among delegates, with one cabinet minister, Nate Glubish, Minister of Service Alberta, openly opposing it.
“I understand that the health-care system needs significant reforms,” said Glubish on Friday. “If we approve this policy, it is going to cause a ton of grief for all MLAs who are working hard to deliver you results.”
Out of all 30 resolutions adopted, the health-care resolution passed with the slimmest margin. Premier Jason Kenney, speaking on a Calgary radio station Monday, said the party remained committed to public health care.
Kenney said his read on what the party members asked for on the weekend was for the government to explore more options for the delivery of medical services.
“Health care should be based on what’s in the best interest of the patient, not on ideology or special interest groups,” he said.
Health care has been a touchy subject for Kenney’s United Conservatives. Throughout the 2019 election campaign, the New Democrats attacked them on the privatization issue.
Health care has become more sensitive, still, during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the UCP continues to find cost savings within the health-care system.
The New Democrats wasted little time seizing on the policy resolution: “Jason Kenney’s UCP is now committing itself to imposing an American-style health-care system on Albertans in the midst of a deadly pandemic,” thundered David Shepherd, the NDP’s health critic, in a press release Sunday.
The UCP does, in fact, have a policy position that would see some privatization of the health-care system. As part of the overall strategy for reducing costs of the nearly $21 billion health-care budget, the UCP is looking at private surgical facilities and day clinics to clear out the backlog of those awaiting certain procedures, such as orthopaedic surgeries.
If we approve this policy, it is going to cause a ton of grief for all MLAs who are working hard to deliver you results
In August, the province announced a privately funded $200 million private orthopaedic hospital, which would perform all non-emergency orthopaedic surgeries in the Edmonton region.
Saskatchewan has similarly experimented with private surgeries, and saw 98 per cent of surgeries done within six months, though more recently those wait times have climbed back up, which the province says is due to an aging population.
Other jurisdictions in Canada have experimented with two-tier systems. Quebec, for example, has private medical imaging. Other health-care spending across the country, such as dentistry, long-term care and prescription drugs, are also privatized.
Colleen Flood, a law professor at the University of Ottawa and the university research chair in health law and policy, said it’s not surprising that an “aging and relatively wealthy population” wants more from the public health-care system, and that alternatives come up when the public system seems unable to cope.
“We have a big mix of public and private,” said Flood. “Of course there is a private tier, it’s just that Canadian governments have to date tried to limit the amount of two-tier that there is.”
Multiple other nations around the world have some form of public-private medical care. But piecemeal privatization in Canada isn’t necessarily moving the country towards a new health-care system, Flood said.
Another controversial UCP policy measure, that Alberta become a “right-to-work” jurisdiction — essentially, an employee cannot be forced into a collective bargaining unit — passed with 81 per cent voting in favour.
That the resolutions passed does not mean they become party policy. The UCP has, in the past, rejected policy recommendations from conventions, most notably in 2018, when the party grassroots wanted parental notification for topics such as sex in school.
With files from the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald